RAMALLAH ø Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat has blocked
an effort to change a decade-long system of salaries for the more than
40,000 members of the security forces.
PA officials said Arafat has rejected a drive by Finance Minister Salam
Fayyad for the payment of salaries directly to police and security officers.
Instead, the PA chairman has ordered that all salaries would be relayed to
security chiefs, who in turn would pay their officers.
Arafat's decision came after security commanders warned thaty they would
not continue to work for the PA under the new system. The officials said
that since the PA was established in 1994 security commanders would
routinely siphon off a portion of salaries meant for their forces. The
ruling Fatah movement would also receive a percentage of the salaries.
The new system promoted by Fayyad was part of a drive to maintain
confidence in the PA by donor nations. The European Union provides about $12
million a month for PA salaries and European parliamentarians have warned
that the money would be reduced unless Arafat's regime provides an
accounting for the money.
Since 2001, donor nations, which have lobbied for the new system to pay
Palestinian police, have reduced funding to the PA by about 50 percent. In
the late 1990s, donor nations relayed about $500 million to the PA.
The officials said that for the last six months Fayyad has been blocked
from relaying salaries directly to PA police and security officers. On
Saturday, the PA Cabinet approved legislation that would relay salaries
directly into the bank accounts of PA police and security officers. At that
point, Arafat said he would ignore the new bill.
Many police and PA security officers have joined the Fatah-aligned Al
Aqsa Martyrs Brigade for attacks against Israel to augment their salaries of
about $350 a month. Some commanders were said to have been forced to pay
salaries to officers who failed to report to duty on the pretext that they
participated in anti-Israeli strikes.
Arafat's refusal to pay salaries directly to the security officers has
sparked a crisis within the government of Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei. Fayyad
has threatened to resign and Qurei has demanded that Arafat allow the
finance minister to institute new regulations regarding salaries to public
sector workers. Officials said Qurei has not threatened to resign.